Event - Hi-Fi & Home Theatre 2000: Moscow, Russia
|Event - Hi-Fi & Home Theatre 2000: Moscow, Russia|
|25 April 2000|
In early March, the talk in Russia focused on politics, with the coming presidential elections drawing the lion’s share of media attention. According to Russian law, the turnover at the elections must exceed 50% or the results would be invalidated. State-run television was doing its best to persuade people to cast their ballots.
While it is not wise to isolate hi-fi audio (or anything else) from the political situation, an obvious disparity of moods was evident between people in the hi-fi industry and the happy ignorant unaware of the distribution system. The Russian hi-fi industry, which in its free-market renaissance is seven years old, was having its worst conflict with government regulations. For seven years Russian consumers were enjoying very favorable pricing of audio goods, which is especially true for Japanese mass-market products. Sony, Pioneer and Kenwood hi-fi and car audio components were selling at about a 40% markdown compared to the European Union prices.
January Y2K marked the end of fairy-tale price tags. Customs regulations were tightened and components in stock were checked for proper Customs clearance. Big distribution companies attracted too much attention from the Customs and tax officers, and many companies closed their doors, at least temporarily. That was the situation around the annual Hi-Fi & Home Theatre Show that is traditionally held at the uptown French hotel, Sofitel, in Moscow.
Strangely enough there was not much change evident at the show. Some companies choose to lie low and not to exhibit, only to be replaced by smaller concerns, eager to show their wares to the public. The Show guide itself was rather confusing, since some shuffling and changes had occurred, just days before the show.
The Super News
Super Audio CD made its debut on Russian soil. I'd say it was not as impressive as what I had heard at the CES or London Shows. Software was conspicuously sparse and the Sony set-up, including amps and speakers, were sounding rather bright. Nevertheless, many people in whose ears I trust agreed that SACDs did not display a digital family resemblance to standard CDs; and that, in itself, was promising. Having witnessed a demo in London with Marantz's Ken Ishiwata playing multi-channel SACD, I count myself as an early convert.
LAMM Audio's M1.1 monoblocks were used to bi-ampJMlab’s Grand Utopia speakers playing in a huge hall. The hall was used as a conference room at previous shows, so the equipment was set-up literally on stage and the visitors were sitting in rows of chairs, like in a movie theater. This led to some sonic weirdness, such as the bass disappearing in certain rows and the sound being somewhat bright, although spectacular, in its grand Utopian (sorry) scale. Vladimir Shushurin of Brooklyn, NY (the man behind LAMM) also had his ML2 tube monoblocks and brand new LL2 preamp in a regular room with the Mezzo Utopia speakers from JMlab. Their Russian distributor had invited both Mr. Shushurin of LAMM, and Mr. Mahul of JMlab, to visit the show. It saved him a lot of set-up effort, I presume.
The crossover boards of the Burmester Reference speaker
Several German companies were picked up for distribution just prior to the show. Burmester's first appearance in Russia was impressive and showed serious intentions. All four lines of components, from moderately priced Rondo, to the stratospheric Reference, were presented in full strength.
As far as sound is concerned, my sympathies were drawn to A Cappella Audio Arts’ Violon I and Arlekin 2000 speakers playing with Symphonic Line electronics. These speakers, with their horn-loaded midrange and tweeter sections were absolutely fabulous in their ability to reproduce large-scale dynamics. The sound was extremely full-bodied, energetic and effortless.
Despite my aversion to multi-channel sound I could not help noticing one example which really stood alone in terms of quality. The new Audio Physic Tempo 3 speakers were used with a Pioneer DVD player, a Legacy Next-Step multi-channel processor and German AudioNet stereo amps (3 of them). The sound was very clean and transparent in light of its Dolby Digital processing.
The Shape of Things to Come
Japanese giant Onkyo is releasing their new Integra Research series of components. This is home-theater, but with the talents of gifted American designers involved in the creative process. A 7-channel amp was shown, which was designed by Viktor Khomenko of Balanced Audio Technology. Other digital goodies included a preamp-processor and a DVD player by Apogee Electronics (of UV22 professional DAC fame).
The Theta Drednaught is a modular 1 to 5-channel amp.
Wilson Benesch is using high-tech carbon materials in their Bishop speakers. The speaker baskets are machined from solid billets of aluminum.
A new turntable from ClearAudio
A Russian-made 5-channel tube amp
Denon’s new turntable
Italian woodworking skills are evinced in Chario speakers.
Smaller Adriatis speakers from Cabasse use thesame tri-axial "eyeball" drivers as the larger Atlantis.
Shapely things from Gallo Acoustics included a new powered subwoofer.
While the range of brands represented in Russia is fairly wide, in my opinion the domestic audio industry is growing. To support that, this show was the first in Russian history to include Totem speakers from Canada, Zingali and Chario speakers from Italy, NBS cables from the US, Kuzma turntables from Slovenia and other products from companies that had not presented here previously.
Attendance at the show was up compared to the post-financial-crisis ‘99 affair, and was estimated at 9000 attendees. The turnover at the presidential election three weeks later exceeded 60%. Russia now has an elected president, and prices for consumer electronics have risen slightly, yet the hi-fi industry is quite alive. We have seen worse news, believe me.
Sergei Taranov is an editor of a Russian audio magazine.
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